To round out poetry month, there’s one more magazine I’d like to talk about: Mythic Delirium, edited by Mike Allen. This magazine has been running steadily since 1998, and across the years has featured poets such as Neil Gaiman, Greer Gilman, Suzette Haden Elgin, Jane Yolen, and Ursula K. Le Guin—among a host of other voices. The newest issue, recently released, is the twenty-sixth installment; the table of contents features familiar names, from Rose Lemberg to Sonya Taaffe, Amal El-Mohtar to C. S. E. Cooney, and fresh ones, like Sandi Leibowitz and Jason Sturner.
The twenty-two poems within range from science-fictional to mythic and cover a wealth of ground in between. For a beginning reader of speculative poetry or a seasoned veteran, there’s a lot on offer in Mythic Delirium 26. The issue is also illustrated with art from Paula Friedlander, Don Eaves and Terrence Mollendor, Daniel Trout, and Anita Allen. The cover is by Tim Mullins.
While I found all of the poems in this issue to be solid, engaging, and good enough to pause over for long moments—good enough to re-read aloud, in most cases—a few stood out above the rest. Every poem in Mythic Delirium 26 has powerful imagery; capturing in words a startling scene or visual is something that speculative poetry lends itself to. The majority of the poets also have fun with syntax and diction in ways that produce interesting tensions. Another thing that is intriguing about this issue is something that Allen notes in his introduction: the sense of community among speculative poets in on display here. That closeness produces and inspires so much continuing work—poems for birthdays, poems for other poets’ recent work; the strands of influence and inspiration are an intricate spider’s web to trace across the readings in the issue.
The issue itself is organized in a thematic arc—it opens with science fictional poems and then shifts through fantastic genres, with poems grouped along the spectrum. That, in particular, is one reason I thought to include Mythic Delirium 26 in our Poetry Month discussions: it’s a good introduction to spec-poetry, thanks to the variety within. As for some of the poems that I loved best in this issue, they range widely in tone and topic, too.
“Lost in the Static” by G. O. Clark is a poignant discourse on the missed message and the cluttered nature of contemporary life, wherein communication from extra-terrestrials goes unnoticed thanks to our saturation in other media. The rhythm of the language in the poem is methodical and low-key, but evocative.
“Kin” by S. Brackett Robertson follows a narrator who was once a pigeon, pursued by the birds that wish to reclaim her to their world of skies and flight. The imagery of the pigeons—”they don’t look the same on my doorstep / each one walks alone the first night / wild-eyed, wary”—is a strong point of this poem for me; it renders the fantastical elements as concrete as the visuals of these common birds.
Rose Lemberg’s “The Journeymaker in Kestai” is a short but powerful piece with echoes of Orpheus—being unable to look back to see if the “he” of the poem is following, the narrator must continue their journey, knowing only that they have asked him to follow. Lemberg’s gift for poetic language is on display in lines like “I am walking, / my steps forgetting my feet [ ],” where words shift slightly to illuminate a sideways sort of meaning.
“The Forest King” by Alexandra Seidel is a longer piece, bookended by illustrations, that speaks to nature and modernity with vivid imagery of living things. The call-and-response lyricism of the alternating stanzas between the forest king and the narrator is an effective vehicle for the potency of the poem, shaped as it is by traditions of myth and story-telling.
“She Knocks” by Amal El-Mohtar is perhaps my favorite of the bunch. The back-and-forth between the woman who rides the lightning and the narrator is witty, erotic, and strung tight along linguistic and thematic lines. The evocative images that each speaker calls up in their delineations of what they “ride,” though the narrator is lying and already “a little it in love,” are mediated by a sensual awareness of the flirtation in the dual-meanings of their speeches. The play of the words against each other and in repetition is matched by the play of the characters against and with each other; the build of a romance through words—in particular through declaiming—is delightful to read. “She Knocks” is simply great work, throughout.
Sonya Taaffe’s “Scythe-Walk” unites gardens and Death—the act of gardening and walking rows with the mythological connotations of the scythe (though in this case, Death carries a rake). The imagery is powerful, and the language is spot-on perfect; I was particularly impressed with the rhythm of the poem, the way that it strolled along like its personification of Death.
“Sleeping Furies” by C. S. E. Cooney is another mythic piece, exploring the furies as babies being cared for in an eerie, dark-lit nursery. While the imagery is provocative—certainly the thought of adders and pit-vipers curled up with infants is shiver-inducing—the real strength of this poem lies in the implication of its closing line about the furies as they grow older: “They will know what children owe their parents.” The resonance of this poem for those familiar with the myths of the furies is striking, and the way that final line recalls a set of later events is masterful.
“This Illusion of Flesh” by Virginia M. Mohlere is the closing poem of Mythic Delirium 26, and it shuts the volume with a snap. The narrator speaks of change not as magical transformations but as contained entirely and eternally within her—within anyone—then dares the reader at the close, “Rise up from your own sea. / I will not name you. / Make your own worlds.” The refusal to accept the static version of herself, and the embrace of the multitudes of her own body and identity, are fabulously rendered in image and verse.
Mythic Delirium 26 is a strong collection of current shapes and trends in speculative poetry that will entertain and, perhaps, enrapture readers new to the genre or quite practiced in reading it. I recommend giving this magazine a try—the artwork is vibrant and interesting, the poems are provocative, and the reading experience resonates for a long while after closing the pages.
Brit Mandelo is a writer, critic and occasional editor whose primary fields of interest are speculative fiction and queer literature, especially when the two coincide. Also, comics. She can be found on Twitter or her website.